While teammate and classmate Stephanie Sherpa, right, sips the remnants on her plate, Rockville High senior Frances Marks raises her plate after finishing her melted whipped cream "pie" during a homecoming pep rally. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

The first homecomings were alumni football games held by U.S. colleges and universities in the mid-1800s. By the 1920s, homecoming had become a large celebration at campuses across the country.

The games were only part of the festivities, which grew to include parades, tailgates, bonfires and dances. The tradition was embraced by high schools and communities across the country, though more in celebration of the current students than the former.

“Homecoming to me is a lot about school spirit and class spirit,” said Frances Marks, 17, a senior at Rockville High. The events all week give “everyone a chance to come together. It’s how to get to know more people outside your group of friends.”

History at Rockville was shortened Friday, as was every other class that was offered that day. The culmination of Sprit Week was the afternoon pep rally sponsored by the Student Government Association. After a week of themed dressing and hallway decorating, the students had one last to chance to show their spirit before the football game that night. At the far end of the gym, the marching band played and the cheerleaders formed tunnels for the students as they entered. A Rams mascot high-fived students as they headed toward their class’s section. “The one rule?” an SGA member shouted into the microphone as the students got settled. “You are not allowed to sit down!” The crowd responded with a deafening roar.

The pep rally started with class cheers and some good-natured taunting. The gym stayed loud through performances by the poms and step teams and only got louder as the football team and homecoming court were introduced.

Dawn Rundhammer, the student government adviser, saved the students’ favorite pep rally activity — the pie-eating contest — for last. The whipped cream had melted long before the four tables were moved to the center of the gym. Three students from each grade stood behind the tables — the pie plates taped down in front of them — ready to compete in a relay race. Without using their hands, one teammate at a time slurped up the mess and then raised the plate in the air.

The senior trio of Crystal DeLeon, Stephanie Sherpa and Marks worked as quickly as they could. The last senior to go, Marks threw the remaining drips of melted whipped cream from her plate as she tried to pull it from the table, while at the other end of the gym, the junior team began celebrating its close win. The junior section of the bleachers roared. The seniors roared even louder as Marks smiled and outstretched her arms, questioning the loss.

“It really boosts their power and their spirit and gets them some class unity,” Rundhammer said. “It gets them pumped.”

8for More high school coverage: Go to allmetsports.com. Email ideas for More Than a Game to sandyst@washpost.com